Washing Instructions

trust us. we are mechanics
of the first degree
from “our name is mike” by j.lewis

The kitchen sink: eight cubic
feet, two each way by two feet
deep, with two outdoor spigots
set into its steel back-wall
well above the highest water
level possible. Steel splash-
guard protecting the wall
on the right side, a bright

overhanging sconce light,
and the counter on the left
side rolls away, leaving plenty
of room for rag-towels
to protect the floor. Kitchen
sink that, like most of us,
has to serve more than one
purpose to earn the floor-space
it takes up. Double-duty.

Heavy duty. Because that
machine whose job it is
to do the washing comes with
permanent disclaimers, warning
labels that proclaim:

No washer can completely
remove oil. Do not dry anything
that has ever had any type
of oil on it. Le non-respect
de ces instructions peut causer
la muerte, un explosion, o
incendio.

Check. I have a thought, dismiss
it with a slight regret. Recite
one hundred times: I will not
write to Maytag asking what they
mean, “do not dry anything….”

I am envisioning asking if
a thing has been so unlucky as
to have actually had oil on it,
how is one to keep it from
eventually drying out all by
itself? And when it does, are
they seriously warning me

that it will be like in
secondary school, in chemistry,
when we thought it would be
interesting to extract
the phosphorus from its safe-place
underwater in a jar and leave
it on the steel counter?
(That was interesting indeed.)

I am envisioning an attic
filled with two-gallon
pickle jars, greasy shirts
and jeans, all safely soaking
to keep them from exploding,
an occasional embroidered
name patch pressed sad and wet
against the inside of the glass.

Wisdom from some desert father
offered up by Thomas Merton:
It is not because evil thoughts
come to us that we are condemned,
but only because we make use
of the evil thoughts.
I complete
my hundred recitations of this
reassurance while I gather up
all the dangerously greasy

laundry. Gasoline and avgas,
solvent, tractor fluid, diesel…
and for balance, one pale green
fine linen dishtowel that got too
friendly with manual spray pump
used for squirting olive oil. It all
goes in the waiting sink.

This isn’t the kind of sink that’s
lined up on a window with a view.
This is a sink that gets right
down to business, and when
the hot spigot runs for just
six seconds, the steam would
make a window useless anyway.

I begin the layering:
the jeans and shirts, the worst
of the grease spots pointed
up. Then I tear off the card-
board top of a small box
of cornstarch and distribute
the fine powder fairly evenly,
making sure to not miss any
places thick with grease.

Then I pour in two litres
of soda (don’t believe anyone
who tells you it has to be
brand Coca-Cola, any cheap
generic carbonated containing
citric acid does just fine).
Then a cup of hand-wash
dishsoap. Then hot water.

Final layer is the rack
from an old Weber to hold
the clothes beneath
the surface of the steaming
murky stew. Turn on the vent
fan. DO NOT forget this.
Walk away. Come back
two hours later when it no
longer looks so angry, use
tongs to lift the grill
and pull the plug. Rinse.
Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse.

Then wash as usual.
Tumble dry low.


Read the whole series of laundry poems.

Series Navigation← Laundry poem ending with lines from James BrushGive Me Your Ravaged, Your Ruined →

1 Comment


  1. Laura I think this is my favorite of the whole series–love taking the instruction “do not dry” seriously, and playing it out so whimsically…lighthearted, playful, and the work so basic, elemental, necessary, love this whole laundry conversation!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.